Sunday, May 3, 2015

NY Times Review

For years, it has become a tradition that marriage be the union of a man and a woman as committed lifelong partners. According to the Bible, marriage is “An intimate and complementing union between a man and a woman in which the two become one physically, in the whole of life.” However according to the law, marriage only needs to satisfy three requirements: the parties' legal ability to marry each other, mutual consent of the parties, and a marriage contract as required by law. The practice of same-sex relationships dates all the way back to the times of ancient Greece, yet still is not a fully recognized and accepted practice.

Likewise, Supreme Court justices are also quite mixed on the issue at hand as well. More conservative justices such as Scalia and Alito are hesitant on breaking tradition , whereas more liberal justices such as Breyer have come to recognize same-sex relationships as a growing part of society.

“As far as I’m aware, until the end of the 20th century, there never was a nation or a culture that recognized marriage between two people of the same sex,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

“The answer we get is, well, people have always done it. You know, you could have answered that one the same way we talk about racial segregation.” -Justice Stephen G. Breyer

The first question that comes up for the issue at hand is the accountability of the Supreme Court justices. The result of the decision would most likely change America forever, as the official definition of marriage itself could possibly be altered for future generations to come. Should merely nine appointed individuals really make a decision on behalf of the thousands of same sex couples in the United States? Since Supreme Court justices are not elected, they are sometimes viewed to be not very representative of the public. Likewise, in order to stay impartial, the Supreme Court's decisions do not always take in public opinion, no matter how sensitive and widespread the case.

Currently, support for same-sex marriage has increased from the initial nine states to thirty-six, with many states accepting and legalizing same-sex marriage. It's here where the federal and state governments may clash. Whereas of right now, marriage is currently held in the states' boundary of control, each one able to decide the legality of same-sex marriage. However, once the Supreme Court makes its decision, state law will be overridden, creating a great deal of outbreak and opposition in the public if same-sex marriage fails to be legalized.

Gay marriage 37 states legal 13 states banned

In order to make the proper decision, the Supreme Court must choose how to approach the issue at hand first. What method should the Supreme Court use when formulating conclusions? Should the justices hold back and make the decision based more on previous precedents and traditional values? Or should the justices actively interpret any implied parts of the Constitution and make stretches? It's nonetheless a battle between judicial restraint and judicial activism. While judicial activism in this case would favor same-sex couples more, it would also mean drifting off from the Supreme Court's ability to be impartial and unbiased since more personal interpretation and opinion from the justices would be required.

However, in my personal opinion, marriage is not gender-binding. In the social sense, love doesn't necessarily have to stem from the opposite sex, it can develop in multiple ways. Love develops from romantic and affections feelings for another individual, and this person does not necessarily have to be someone of the opposite sex. By human nature, the range of romance can vary from person to person. Other than the exception of being unable to produce offspring, same-sex marriage shares many of the same elements as traditional opposite-sex marriage.

In the constitutional sense, same-sex couples deserve to have the right and freedom to pursue love like any other couple in the United States. After the ruling in Grisworld v. Connecticut, the implied right to privacy in the 4th amendment was established. Intimate relationships between couples were included in an individual's sphere of privacy, giving them the right to use any birth control devices or medicine in their relationship. Similarly, the “who” a person chooses to be his or her lifelong spouse is also under this sphere of privacy. In addition, the 14th amendment guarantees all U.S citizens the natural rights aforementioned in the Constitution. Back during America's segregation era, interracial marriage between colored and whites was not allowed. Today's situation with same-sex couples is related in the exact same sense. Colored men have been given the natural rights to marriage just like any other American, and it would only seem constitutional to given same-sex couples the same right as well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Economic, Foreign, Welfare, and Environmental Policy Synthesis

The three-step process to making public policy consists of problem recognition, policy formation, and policy implementation. During problem recognition issues begin to emerge, normally from conditions of society such as employment rate, quality of schools, security of nation, and street safety. Policy formation is the process of actually formulating and enacting policy responses to the problem. Only during policy implementation is the public policy actually carried out. Policy implementation is normally left to the bureaucrats and sometimes even includes policy evaluation in order to determine whether policy has its expected effect.

In order to protect the preexisting order of mother nature, the government holds its authority as a protector of the environment. The government has been involved in land conservation for more than a century, the very first national park being Yellowstone established in 1872. National parks and forests have a “dual use” policy. Although they are nature preserves and recreation areas, they are also rich sources of natural resources and logging companies and ranchers are permitted to come and take these resources every now and then. In addition, global warming, or the “greenhouse effect”, is one of the most famously recognized environmental issues in society. People often believe it is a simple myth since they do not understand the difference between changes in weather and climate and fail to notice the real signs of global warming. Weather change does not equal climate change since the former is a short term change that normally affects a specific section while the latter is a long term change extending over vast regions of the world. Global warming has caused the melting of polar ice caps, rising in ocean levels that threatens low lying coastal areas, and some of the hottest recorded years of the decade. 

Although regulation has it's benefits, such as environmental regulation leading to dramatic improvements in air and water quality, this very regulation can ironically also sometimes be the very cause of environmental issues. Back during the BP Oil in 2010, when the idea of an underground oil pipe was being pursued, a leak in the pipe lead to an overflowing excess of oil getting released into the ocean, both damaging ecological disasters and the native animal species in that area.

Government also acts as a protector and regulator of the economy, a system of production and consumption of goods and services that are allocated through exchange. Economic efficiency is known as the process of gaining the highest possible output of goods and services from the limited given the amount of input (labor and material) used produce them. During competition between two or more very similar companies, producers will cut their production costs in order to keep up with lower priced competitors. In addition, government holds its own job regulatory activities. For example, when railroad companies drove many farmers bankrupt from overcharging short route fees (they didn't have any competition either at the time), Congress enacted the Interstate Commerce Act, which not only created the Interstate Commerce Commission(ICC) but also assigned it the responsibility of regulating railroad practices such as shipping rates. In addition, many federal agencies also look over business competition. The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), for example, was created to monitor firms and make sure they were implementing federal regulations on air, water quality, and toxic waste disposal. When businesses perform externalities, when businesses or consumers fail to pay the full costs of resources used in production, the government has to right to make that business pay for the indirect costs. The Clean Air Act of 1963 and Water Quality Act of 1965 helped instill this rule by requiring firms to install antipollution devices designed to keep the discharge of air and water pollutants within specified limits. Another unqiue method of regulation is deregulation, the process of annulling of regulations already in force for the purpose of improving efficiency. A perfect example of this was in 1977, when the Airlines Deregulation Act eliminated government set airfares and the requirement for airlines  to provide service to smaller-size cities. Of course, when carried too far, deregulation can possibly lead firms into engaging in reckless or unethical behavior due to believing they can get away with such actions

Often seen to be ineffective at promoting the interests of the people, the government does play an exceptionally essential role in promoting economic interests. For example, the government provides traditional services such as education, transportation, and defense to businesses. Without the professional workforce from universities and transportation from roadways, waterways, and airports, businesses could not function. The government used to be quite hostile toward labor, going to point of using police and soldiers to break up strikes. However, after Great Depression attitude towards labor began to change. The government began to support general privileges and rights including minimum wage, maximum work house guarantees, unemployment benefits, better working conditions, and nondiscriminatory hiring practices. Today, farmers receive billions of dollars of assistance each year from the government. The Homestead Act of 1862 even made government-owned lands accessible for settlement. Often neglected in the past, farmers are now the most heavily subsidized individuals in the world thanks to Congress's five-year $300-billion farm bill that would put farmers in line for hefty government assistance. The bill went through many tests of rejection and approval, but was nonetheless accepted in the end. 
While the U.S has a much stable economy state compared to other nations in the world, poverty is still remain to be very big issues disturbing the U.S. There are two different ways to categorize poverty. Absolute poverty measures poverty through a poverty line, and if certain families or individuals fall below this poverty line, they are considered to lack the resources and basic needs in having a healthy life, along with insufficient income for food, shelter, and clothing. U.S poverty line is about is arguably low at 11670 for a single individual or 23850 for a family of four. Relative poverty deems individuals as poor when they have significantly less income and wealth compared to other people of society, the U.S relative poverty rate being at 24%.

Initially, the U.S social welfare policy had little federal government activity or influence. The commonly held outlook was negative government, where the government governs by staying out of the lives of people. Later on, following the aftermath of the Great Depression, the U.S turn towards more of a positive government model, when the government intervenes in other to enhance personal liberty and security during times of difficulty.

The federal government has helped the U.S economy grow through a variety of social insurance programs. Social security is the means of paying for retired persons through the means of payroll taxes on employees and employers' salaries. Therefore, the amount of retirement money is direct proportional to the amount of money put into the system when working. The long term issue with social security is that as people can now live longer lives, the amount of money made through the workers (young) cannot sufficiently pay for retirees (old). Especially with the baby boomer generation now retiring, it is especially hard for workers to pay for a generation much larger than theirs.

Likewise, there are also a number of public assistance programs, all of which require a means test (test to prove that applicant are poor enough to receive the benefits) in order to be eligible. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides public assistance to the blind and disabled. The Food Stamps programs provides an in-kind-benefit (not a cash related benefit), food stamps, that can be spent on grocery items. Head Start, a program of LBJ's Great Society, offers free preschool education to low-income children.
Modern day Americans believe that society can run well without the aid of welfare. The result is a welfare system that is both inefficient (much of the money spent on welfare never reaches the intended recipients) and inequitable (most of the social welfare spending does not go to the ones who need it the most). Eligibility for benefits can be hard to pinpoint since overlapping needs can conflict with each other. A person making $495 a month can be eligible for a certain benefit whereas someone making $500 a month isn't.

Today, Americans endorses the idea of equality of opportunity, the idea that people should have a reasonable chance to succeed if they make the effort. This has been demonstrated several times the American education system. In order to ensure proper education opportunity of every student in America, President Bush passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which makes standardized testing mandatory in all schools in order to access the education quality students receive. Schools with less improvement will then therefore receive federal aid. The idea of school choice gives students the option of leaving poor performing schools for better ones. With the growth of charter schools and school vouchers, students can almost “shop around for schools” to find which one suits their needs best.

Ever since World War II, the U.S acquired the position and the world leader, possibly because of it switch over from an isolationist to internationalist (deeply involved in world affairs) country overview. During the cold war, international power was bipolar, with the U.S pitted up against the Soviet Union. Later on as the Soviet Union began to collapse from its heavy expenditures and inefficient centralized economy, with all of its Soviet republics declaring their independence and splitting away, the U.S soon became the unrivaled single international power and initiate a unipolar international structure.

Following the aftermath of the Cold War, President George H.W Bush sought to have a multilateralist society, the idea that major nations should act together in response to problems and crises, leading to the creation of organizations such as the UN and NATO. This was successfully demonstrated during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when the U.S intervened and drove the Iraqi tops out of Kuwait, thus ending the war. Later on during President George W. Bush's reign, multilateralism was abandoned, and Bush (jr) instead chose to focus more on a “war on terrorism” approach, which aimed towards making national security the main priority of the nation. Following the transnational terrorism (terrorist attacks on the national borders including attacks on nonmilitary targets) attacks of 9-11, American soon began to narrow it's enemy to al Qaeda.

Just like national security, global trade is also a very important goal of the U.S. The U.S is a supporter of free trade, the idea that barriers to international trade should be kept to a minimum. The World Trade Organization (WTO) was created just for this reason: to promote global free trade through reductions in tariffs and protections for intellectual property. However, there are also many U.S policymakers that disagree with the idea of free trade and instead argued for protectionism, the idea that domestic producers should be protected from foreign competition. Trade with China can be frustrating, as although China still remains to be a frequent trading partner with the U.S, providing it inexpensive goods in return for a marketplace for its goods, America's trade deficit with China has increased up to over $250,000 each year.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Judiciary Synthesis

The Federal Judiciary consists of a few different types of courts. There is not only the Supreme Court but also the U.S District Courts, the U.S Court of Appeals, Special U.S courts, and state courts. Jurisdiction is the court's authority to hear a case of a certain type, with original jurisdiction being the authority to be the first court to hear a case, includes legal disputes involving foreign diplomats and cases in which the opposing parties are state governments and appellate jurisdiction-authority to review cases that have already been heard in lower courts and are appealed to a higher court by the losing party, determine whether a trial court has acted in the accord with applicable law.

When selecting and deciding cases, the Supreme Court has a few powers to aid in its job. Judicial review, established from Marbury v. Madison, gives the Supreme Court the right to deem whether if the actions of Congress and the president are unconstitutional. Such a power is used sparingly, as using it to often would break down the progress of the branches of government. The Supreme Court also has the right to establish precedents, judicial decisions that set the rule for setting subsequent cases of a similar kind. When a party loses in a lower court, it can send the case to Supreme Court with the approval of four justices. The Court issues a writ of certiorari, a request for the lower court to submit a record of the case to the Supreme Court. Although many parties apply or a certiorari each year, they are sparingly granted.

There are a few different types of courts in American politics. U.S District Courts act as the first line to tend to all criminal and civil cases, basically chief trait courts of the federal system. Cases appealed from district court later go to U.S Courts of Appeals, where appellates have the possible chance for reversal of the previous decision made in district courts. However the Supreme Court sees very few cases, less than one percent of all cases being those from appeal courts. There are also a few Special U.S Courts that serve specific purposes. Some example include the U.S Claims Court which looks over cases where the U.S government is being sued for damages and the U.S Court of Military Appeals which looks over appeals of military courts-martial.

The president holds the every right to appoint the court justices he/she feels are suited for the job. For Supreme Court justices, there are many strict criteria to follow. Presidents look for nominees who both share their political philosophy and are easily accepted by others. Nominees are judged by their legal community and interested groups, reported by the media, go through an extensive background check by FBI, and must receive approval of a Senate majority. About 20% of presidential nominees to the SC have been rejected by the Senate on grounds of judicial qualifications, political views, personal ethics, or partisanship. Some of the few things that help guarantee confirmation including having a clean personal record, strong professional record, sharing the same party as the president, and ability to demonstrate temperament and intellect of a Supreme Court justice. For lower court nominees, they are chosen by the attorney general, who in turn takes suggestions from the House and Senate. If a senator from a state with a vacancy arises (and the senator is part of the same party as the president), that senator is a low court nominee. This is the tradition of senatorial courtesy.

There is a common trend in personal background for judicial appointees. Most federal judges already have prior judicial experience, as such individuals would be most preferable for the federal bench. Within the federal bench is a dominating majority of overrepresented white males, but also a gradually growing minority representing group members such as women (appointed by Democrats mainly). Today, three out of the nine supreme court justices are women (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan). Thurgood Marshall became the first black justice in 1967 while Antonin Scalia became the first one of Italian descent in 1986.

Through the process of judicial decision making, there are many legal restrictions on judicial decision. The facts of a particular case limit judicial action, and they are known as the relevant circumstances of a legal dispute or offense. A judge must treat a murder case with the same accepted definitions and penalties for any murder case. Since the facts set up the general circle of limitations for cases, murder cases, for example, cannot simply be used to promote something completely unrelated to the current circumstances, such as free speech rights. The great limitation courts must follow is law itself, such as the Constitution, legislative statures, and legal precedents. The Constitution itself is known as the “law of the land”, and judges and justices are sworn to uphold it. For example, the Constitution prohibits states from printing their money and if they were to do so anyway, judges would have every right to rule against it. Other than constitutional law, there is also statutory law and administrative law. Statutory is a legislative/written version of the law, while administrative is actually set rules, regulations, and judgments made by the agencies to achieve the goals of the statutory law. In the precedent of the U.S legal system holds that any principles of law established in a previous cases must be applied in later similar cases.

Although judges have their limitations when making decisions and must abide by the law, their job still requires a great deal of personal judgment and belief. All throughout history, courts have exerted their personal insights are various controversial issues, such as when deeming laws enacted by Congress as unconstitutional or on sympathetic cases such as abortion. With more and more social and economic changes emerging, issues such as environmental pollution are starting to become the topic of several court cases.

In order to determine what conclusion to make for cases, judges alternate between four different theory models to follow. The first two, originalism and living constitution apply to how the Constitution should be interpreted. Originalism theory, holds that the Constitution should be interpreted in a way that “any reasonable person would have interpreted it”. Although this theory may sound fair, it is also very hard to determine what exactly the writers of the Constitution themselves were thinking and interpreting when making the Constitution. The living constitution theory on the other hand, interprets the Constitution’s broad language and basic principles to be purposefully used for adapting and accommodating different cases. Even the preamble of the 1787 Constitutional Convention's Committee of Detail states the Constitution “ought to be accommodated to times and events”. The only problem with this theory is that judges can promote personal, preferable views.

The doctrines of judicial restraint and judicial activism describe what a judge should abide to. Judicial restraint states that judges should defer to the precedent and decisions made by legislatures. While the elected lawmakers determine the law, judges really only have the power to apply it. On the other hand, judicial activism states that judges have every right to interpret the Constitution, statues, and precedents in light of fundamental principle.

The judiciary's exact length of authority is hard to determine or approximate. The judiciary is not a final branch of authority checking on political power, but rather, a coequal branch of government with the responsibility to to protect individual rights and constrain political authority. In the end, everything depends on how much courts assert their authority in cases.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bureaucracy Synthesis

The bureaucracy is a system of organization and control that is baaed on three principles: hierarchical authority, job specialization, and formalized rules. The hierarchical authority is the chain of command where officials at the top have authority over those in the middle, who in turn have more authority than those are at the bottom. This Speeds up action by reducing conflict over the power to make decisions since those high in the organization have authority over those below them. Job specialization explicitly defines the duties for each job position and the precise division of labor within the organization. This is efficient because each individual concentrates on a particular job and becomes proficient in it. The formalized rules are the established procedures and regulations by which a bureaucracy conducts its operations. Workers can make quick judgments because decisions are based on preset rules rather than on a case by case basis.

Within the bureaucracy are branches of agencies. Cabinet/Executive Departments are the leading administrative units that serve the president and excel in a general policy area such as law enforcement or defense, examples including the Department of Justice, Department of State, and Department of Defense. Independent agencies include CIA and NASA, and resemble cabinet departments but are different since they are typically narrower in area of responsibility and can possibly cause symbolic or practical problems when placed in a department. For example, NASA could be placed in the Department of Defense, but doing so would mean that NASA exists only for military purposes and not for civilian purposes such as space exploration and satellite communication. Regulatory agencies are created when Congress recognizes the need for ongoing regulation of a particular economic activity. Such examples include: SEC which oversees the stock and bond markets, CPFB which regulates banks, credit unions, and security firms ,and EPA which regulates industrial pollution. Regulatory agencies can develop law-like regulations and then judge whether individuals or organizations are following with them. For example, the EPA can impose fines and other penalties on business firms that violate environmental regulations. Government corporations are similar to private corporations in that charge clients for their services and are governed by a board of directors, but receive federal funding to help defray operating expenses. Such examples include the FDIC ensuring people's saving accounts from bank failures, Amtrak providing passenger rail service, and the U.S postal service delivering mail. Lastly, are presidential commissions, which provide advice to the presidents. They can be permanent bodies for multiple use such as the Commission on Civil Rights and the Commission on Fine Arts or temporary bodies used for a one time purpose, such as President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security.

There are two basic systems used when hiring administrative officials. The merit system sets the conditions of hiring people only if they score high on a competitive exam (postal service, civil service) or have specialized training (lawyers, engineers, scientists). Neutral competence is the the administrative objective of the merit system. Being “neutral” means that employees are not partisan appointees and are expected to serve everyone) and being “competent” means that employees are hired and retained on the basis of their skills. The patronage system utilizes the practice of filling administrative offices with people who had supported the winning party; however, when this system is used corruptly, a branch call the spoils system forms, where inexperienced, unfit friends/acquaintances of officers are given the job. This was a popular practice used during president Andrew Jackson's term.

The main job of administrative agencies is policy implementation, the process of executing the decisions made by Congress, the president, and the courts. Agencies are limited by the size of their federal budget, which charges for every little item, such as delivery services (delivering mail for example). The budgetary process requires several steps to finalize. Initially the Office of Management an Budget (OMB) establishes the general budget guidelines, one example being the budget ceiling each agency cannot pass. Agencies then create their detailed budget according to the guidelines and submit it back to the OMB for review. The OMB finalizes the budgets and combines them with the president's budget proposal and priorities. About two-thirds of the budget involves mandatory spending (ex: social-security) and the other one-third is used for discreptionary spending (defense, education, foreign aid, national parks, highways), meaning the president essentially has no right to reduce these payments, nonetheless make any big changes to the budget. He/she can only create the margins of the budget, choosing to increase or decrease spending according to the previous years.

Bureaucrats have a few different areas of unique powers, consisting of specialized knowledge, support of interests that benefit from their programs, and the backing of the president and Congress. In order to find a solution to a problem, the power of expertise, or a deep understanding of the issue, is necessary. Congress members only have a basic film of understanding of an issue, and require the specialized expertise of bureaucrats. For example, in order to have a policy change in order to resolve the issue of the US having a trade deficit with China, a deep understanding of basic steps such as the form of the new policy, its probably cost and effectiveness, and America's standing with Asia are also necessary. Most federal agencies were created for the purpose of promoting , protecting, or regulating a particular interest. Every federal agency has clintele groups which lobby Congress and the president on behalf of the federal agency when its programs are being reviewed. The president and Congress may conflict with the bureaucracy, but are also extremely dependent on them. The agency's resources, programs, expertise, and group support, can help elected officials achieve their goals. For example, back when Obama announced his goal of making the US less dependent on foreign oil, he needed the help of the Department of Energy's experts to make programs that would fulfill that goal. Agencies have many allies in Congress, and they are important for funding and programs, as shown with the Department of Agriculture and the congressional agriculture sector.

Bureaucratic accountability is the degree to which bureaucrats are held responsible for for their power. Bureaucracies are quite big, making it difficult for presidents to coordinate activities and make bureaucracies more responsive. Lack of communication between the FBI and CIA lead to terrorist attacks such as World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11. Presidents have tried to make bureaucracies more responsible by reorganizing them, but only small changes have been made. For example, Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab almost detonated plastic explosives on a plane to Amsterdam if it wasn't for the efforts of the other passengers on the plane. Later on,he still managed to escape detection when US intelligence officers failed to put his name on the “no-fly list”, a poor job done by the US's intelligence system.

Congress, as the source of programs and funding for agency's, plays the “power of the purse” role in monitoring bureaucracies. It decides how much money will be spent on agency programs. In addition, through the Congress oversight function, Congress can also monitor the bureaucracy's work to ensure agreement with the original legislative intent and even late legislative action to correct issues. However, Congress's main weakness is that due to having a very limited, short amount of time and expertise, it is unable to thoroughly detail the gears of the programs.

Like the respective legislative and executive branches, the judiciary also has its right to oversee the bureaucracy. If an agency fails to carry out a law properly, the injured party has every right to file a lawsuit against that agency. And through the consent of the court, the agency must therefore change its policy. For example, Of course, courts tend to support the agencies if their actions as least somewhat follow the law they were administering. The Supreme Court states that unless if Congress has specifically established something contrary about the law, the agencies are free to apply any reasonable interpretation of it and have flexibility in order to operate efficiently.

As an extra layer of ensuring the accountability of the bureaucracy, there are mechanisms within the bureaucracy itself that guarantee this, consisting of the Senior Executive Service (SES), administrative law judges, whistle-blowing, and demographic representatives. The SES is the compromise between a president led bureaucracy and an expert one. The SES is composed of seven thousand top level career civil servants who can be assigned by the president to any position within the bureaucracies. In order to decrease the bureaucracy's agency point of view (serves itself more than Congress or the president), these civil servants act as the intermediates between presidential appointees (has the power to limit what agencies do) and agent civil servants. When an individual feel that he or she has been unfairly disadvantaged by a bureaucrat's decision , the administrative law judge handles the dispute. Operating a much more informal means of conducting law hearings, administrative law judges, administrative law judges still devote themselves to protecting individuals from arbitrary, prejudicial, or incorrect agency decisions even they though they themselves are part of that agency. Bureaucratic corruption is battled through the act of whistle-blowing, reporting of instances of official mismanagement. In addition, the Whistle-blowing Protection Act protects whistleblowers from retaliation from their superiors and even gives them financial rewards if their information results in savings for the government. Demographic representatives helps represent the many minorities in society and increase the expressed opinions in the bureaucracy. This has been proven with the improvements in employment and treatment for women, civil servants, and other minorities.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Presidency Synthesis

The president of the United States holds the important job as the being the sole individual in charge of directing the actions of others and planning large scale projects. Because Congress is a slow, divided system, it is important to have a single, authoritarian figure that can respond quickly to big situations, such as World War II, and build relationships with other nations. People look up to the president, not Congress, for leadership in battling terrorism, as shown during Bush's efforts in winning international support for the US military after 9-11. Originally, according to the Whig theory, the president had to act within the limitations of the Constitution when enacting authority, therefore preventing the possible chance of an imperial presidency, when the power of the president is even greater than the Constitution allows. Later on, when T. Roosevelt took office, the Whig Theory was replaced with the stewardship theory, stating that the president is limited only by what is explicitly prohibited, meaning anything not addressed could be interpreted and used to the president's advantage.

The president has many powers, the primary one being the ability to veto. With the veto, the president can choose to refuse a bill into becoming a law. One variation of this is the pocket veto, when the president doesn't sign the bill within ten days and Congress adjourns. The president also has the ability to grant pardons and reprieves and appoint the top officials of the executive branch (ex: Cabinet which holds advisers and attorney general, Executive Office which holds president's closest advisers) or the judicial branch (supreme court justices), which are in turn confirmed by the Senate. If the Senate refuses to comply with the appointments, the president can work his/her way around this obstacle by waiting for the Senate to adjourn for three days or more and using a "recess appointment" which bypasses the Senate for one year. 

However, even as the single head of the nation, the president's power comes with many limits. One, for example, is it's dependence on Congress, the lawmaking body. In order for the president to execute his or her's plans, he or she needs Congress to make the actual law which establishes it. If Congress is dominated by members of the same party as the president, passing favorable laws can be easy. However, as shown through many past Republican presidents such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush, it is very hard to pass laws with a Congress filled with members of the opposing party. When Clinton, a Democratic president, had been backed by a Democratic majority Congress, he was able to pass 85% of the bills he supported. Once Congress majority changed, his legislative success sank below 40%. In addition, although the president is given the title of the commander in chief of armed forces by the Constitution, the War Powers Act prevents the president from engaging in any military activity until there is a declaration of war by Congress.

During campaigns, presidential candidates have to organize a strategy in order to ensure victory. Campaigning for presidential office normally starts two years before the actual election, an action described with the term "invisible primary". This make sense, as primary elections are the process of voters choosing nominees for public office. In this case, the primary is "invisible" since it isn't official, but still influences the decision of the voters. This way when the time actually comes for party candidates to be nominated during open party caucuses, voters who attend will already have a well built foundation of the candidates.The unit rule states that all states, must grant all their electoral votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska which distribute electoral votes by popularity percentage. Because of this, candidates don't need to put in much effort in campaigning in lopsidedly Republican or Democratic states (since they outcome is quite obvious and predictable), and instead target gaining support from the more neutral, persuadable, battleground states.

The irony with US presidents is that, they are most powerful when they are least experienced. When a US president first enters office, he/she enjoys a “honeymoon period”. During this period of time, the president is making a fresh start and is given a warm, welcome. At this time, presidential approval ratings, polls conducted by Pew Research Center showing the level of satisfactory remarks on the president, are especially high and positive. Congress members are more disposed at the president's service and the media reports more positive news on presidential related matters. Presidents are more likely to pass programs during their first year in office. Later on when they begin to run out of gold ideas or deplete their political resources, they lose their favorable momentum, strong showing that contributes to voter support and opposing feelings emerge. This has been proven, as FDR couldn't duplicate his glorious “Hundred Days” period from his first year in office, and even famous presidents such as Reagan and LBJ had weak records in their final years.

Sometimes certain circumstances can contribute to a president's chances and success with passing legislation. For case with FDR, the dragging weights of the Great Depression were enough for Congress to agree in allowing him to launch his New Deal initiatives which improved the nation's economy. The 1964-1965 period of civil rights movement helped LBJ pass landmark civil right/social welfare legislation. When Reagan entered office, America was stuck in a period of deep unemployment and inflation. In order to help improve America's dire situation, Congress allowed Reagan to tax and spend.

There are a few trends displayed in the line of past presidents. All presidents, with the exception Barrack Obama, have been Caucasian/white men. With the exception of four army generals, every other U.S president has served previously as at least one of the following: vice president, state governor, Congress member, or top federal executive. Although there is no female president yet, one is expected to take office any time in the near future. Surveys show that only less than 5% of all Americans believe that a women cannot become the president. If JFK could break the "no-Catholics" trend by becoming the first Catholic president, a female should be able to do the same as well.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Congress Synthesis

Congress has it's main jobs of making laws, representing the people, and overseeing power. However, even after hundreds of years of operation, Congress still isn't perfect, and centers around the same mistakes. Challengers have a hard time making their mark on the nation, the overall work system of Congress can be quite slow and inefficient, and even the main branches of Congress have their main flaws.

Congress can be seen as a system centered on the incumbents. During midterm elections for House members, incumbents normally have the advantage. Unlike challengers, who have a fresh start and no connections, incumbents already have connections with various interest groups, organizations, lobbyists, etc. They may already have plans set up or to continue on if they win a second term, and therefore already have a worked out idea on what to focus on when reelected, whereas challengers still need to take the time to get used to the new position and figure out how to combat the latest issues. Often what happens during these elections is logrolling, when colleagues make the exchange of "I vote for you and you vote for me" deal.

The constituency are the people living in the incumbent's home state. Incumbents employ the use of the service strategy (tending to the constituency) to make money. For example, the Pork-Barrel spending is the practice of obtaining funds through legislation that favors their home districts (earmarks). Incumbents also benefit from a special tool call redistricting, redrawing the House election districts after a reapportionment, reallocating certain populations of a district before actually making the lines.. When used wrongly to redraw districts in a way that favors candidates of a party, it's known as gerrymandering. Most PAC's prefer donating to incumbents, as going against them (and losing) could mean losing a great deal of praise and precious money. Of course, during an open seat election, where there is no incumbent, the tables can turn either way. Incumbents are most vulnerable after getting exposed by a serious scandal, as shown with Nixon at Watergate and Clinton and his affair.
There are a few important figures in Congress to keep in mind of. In each chamber of Congress, there is a leader. In the House, it is the Speaker of the House whereas in the Senate it's the Senate majority leader (leader of the majority party in the chamber). The Speaker of the House is given many powers, including the ability to choose the chairperson and the majority-party members of the House Rules Committee (controls the scheduling of the bills), assigning bills to committees, and assigning members to conference committees. The House majority leader assists the Speaker by organizing debate on bills and lining up legislative support. The Senate majority leader holds a very similar job to the Speaker of the House, the main difference being that he/she is the not Senate's true chamber presiding officer (that would be the vice president/president pro tempore). The minority leaders of both chambers also hold very similar powers, which would be to head the party's caucus and develop the party's legislative positions.

Within Congress are several committees, all with the responsibility for a certain area of public policy. Standing committees are also known as the permanent committees, handling issues dealing with agriculture, foreign policy, labor, taxation, defense, government spending, and the judiciary. Select committees are created for specific job for a specific time period and purpose. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, for example, helps aid overseeing the CIA. Joint committees contain members from both houses and performs advisory functions. The Joint Committee on the Library, for example, helps oversee the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. Conference committees play an important job in the bill making process, as merging of similar bills occurs here. Committees themselves also have a system of leadership. Every committees has important chairpersons that schedule committee meetings, determine the order bills will be debated on, and overall lead the debate.

Congress's first main job is lawmaking. Bills aren't easy to pass. 90% of them don't even get debated on. Since Congress is a bicameral legislature (two-houses), bills are first either introduced to the House or Senate and then taken to committees for revising. Subcommittees further refine the bills, and send them back to the full committees. Full committees have the ability to mark up, or make revisions, to a bill. If the bill is sent to the HOR, then the bill also has to go through an extra step of getting sent to House Rules Committee so it can define the rules of the debate in the House. The Senate does have this step since it since leadership takes on this job. After getting debated on in either the Senate or house, the bill is sent to the conference committee, which merges that bill with any other similar bill passed in the other chamber. Lastly, the bill is sent to the president, who can either veto or approve of the bill. Sometimes riders are proposed, which are irrelevant amendment to bills. Strangely enough, they aren't allowed in the House, but are allowed in the Senate.

A few problems with the lawmaking process is that it's hard to ever agree on anything. Congress is filled with many lawmakers with varying backgrounds, interests, and constituencies. It's not a surprise that there are many disagreements. For example, the precise definition of free trade is different for all members of Congress, as foreign competition to manufacturers of computer chips would be much different to that of manufacturers of automobiles. In addition, unlike the House which runs on a strict debate time limit, the Senate has "unlimited debate time". What sometimes happens when a party is presenting their proposal or idea that quite feasible, a senator of the opposing party will being a filibuster, when senators talk to take up time until the majority party gives up. A filibuster can be canceled, but only with a three-fifths majority approval among the Senate, known as a cloture.

In addition, although Congress holds a main job in representing the various people and beliefs of the nation. Similarly to the lawmaking process, it's quite hard to agree on anything since it's hard to satisfy and represent both the nation and the state interests. For example, there are those members of Congress from more rural areas of the nation that would oppose gun control legislation since whereas those from more urban areas would support it. In the case of conflicting interests, Congress members will normally side with those who align with their part and often have to unwillingly go against constituent interests. For example, when local businesses and labor groups take opposing sides on issues, Republicans will normally support businesses while Democrats will normally support labor.
Congress has a third function of supervising and overseeing “everything” so that power regulated and used properly. However, the task is so large and there is too much to oversee, and as a result, oversight is not pursued vigorously. Only when an agency is found to have acted improperly does Congress place restrictions on the agency and reduce its appropriation. The irony with oversight is that it's normally best to oversee things to prevent any possible mistakes or disasters. However, oversight only actually kicks in when a disaster or mistake like a war happens.

Congress still requires a great deal of improvement. The system is still quite inefficient, has a great deal of gridlock, congress members that don't reflect on the views on constituents and take advantage of their privileges, and fragmented relationships between the executive and legislative branches (especially when two different parties operate them). Possibly through actually imposing more regulations on privileges and operations can the system's conditions at least begin to ameliorate.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Political Polarization

How Incivility Divides Us

In political debates, there will always be the so called “good guy” and  “bad guy” that can vary depending every individual. Each side presents different arguments and beliefs, and although the debaters and viewers don't always blatantly show disgust and disinterest for the other side, on the inside these negative feelings very much do exist. Overall Mutz believes that the act of explicitly expressing these negative feelings and showing uncivil behavior can lead to political polarization because these actions cause partisans to think even less of the opposing side than before by strengthening and stimulating their emotional feelings.

During Murtz's mock political talk show experiment, she observed two very different groups: one polite and proper group of actors that debated respectfully and peacefully and one loud, impolite group of actors that debated harshly and blatantly. The more offensive and harsh group was the one that sparked the most interest; the attitudes toward the opposing group became more and more negative with every emotional and dramatic exchange being made. Therefore, polite debates are considered "boring", as they are monotonous and no different from any regular conversation while active, uncivil debates are "interesting" since they're unique and gain attention.

While people's level of emotional arousal increases from the exposure of uncivil behavior, it doesn't necessarily mean these people actually wholeheartedly enjoy the content of the debate. In fact, the actual content could really be quite offensive to the viewers if certain negative, unacceptable remarks such as racial slurs or gender/sexuality insults are made. (Martin.8. 2015) It's not that people love the statements and wish to continue watching for the sake of pleasure, but rather they almost have no choice but to do so due to shock or curiosity. Likewise, it could also be the very opposite. Incivility brings in an increase of paid attention. Bill and Hillary Clinton actually only use their TiVo to records programs so that they can go back, play over them, and rant on debaters's positions and arguments.

In addition, people may not even understand the actual content of the exchange itself, as the actual things said aren't the most interesting. People will only remember any striking insults or yelling. And it doesn't necessarily have to be for a publicly filmed debate. It could be for a prerecorded advertisement or article. For example, back during American's early days, the election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson sparked a great deal of interest. Opponents of Adams called him a, “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." and opponents of Jefferson called him a "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." (Jackson. 24. 2015) If you were to ask someone why Jefferson was a mean spirited person, chances are that person wouldn't even know. They only remembered the big part: The impolite insult. The various reasons behind it don't matter as much.

Modern day media and technology only make things worse, possibly making the general public think society is more polarized than it really is. The up close camera shots create tense situation where certain individuals are being focused on. One reason why the Obama-Brewer tip off attracted more attention than the also very famous Bush-Webb tip off was simply because of greater camera exposure. (Jackson. 13. 2015). In addition, the mere act labeling groups, such as blacks and whites, Democrats and Republicans, or men or women, can cause people to believe society is more divided than it really is due to everyone being placed into different categories. (Levendusky, Malhotra. 3. 2015). For example, during the survey on the issue of capital gains tax cuts, many Americans though the public was 84 percent more polarized than they actually are. With people already thinking society is more split up than it really is, political polarization is bound to happen to some degree. Political polarization has increased over the years, and the greater exposure and emphasis on civil disobedience from the media will only worsen it.

Overall, incivility has the ability to both spark interest and cause a debate to lean towards the extremes due to the extreme nature of incivility. No matter what time period we look at, we will find several occasions and effects of this happening. With the growing use of media and technology in society, emphasis on these extreme statements will only continue to growing, reinforcing people's outlook of the "good guy" and "bad guy" and diminishing the similarities and agreements of the two opposing sides.

MLA Citation
Jackson, David. "Obama and Incivility: A Presidential Tradition." USA Today. Gannett, 26 Jan. 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <>.
Martin, Michel. "Sparking A Better Political Discourse." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <>.
Levendusky, Matt, and Neil Malhotra. "The Media Make Us Think We’re More Polarized than We Really Are." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <>.