New York City has a problem with income inequality. And it’s getting worse—the top of the spectrum is gaining and the bottom is losing. Along individual subway lines, earnings range from poverty to considerable wealth. The interactive infographic here charts these shifts, using data on median household income, from the U.S. Census Bureau, for census tracts with subway stations: http://nyr.kr/11mEy8m
This is a really great way to map out inequality in an area. I’d love to see it done elsewhere (say, along a major US interstate).
The oral arguments have started in the Supreme Court on a new challenge to the US Voting Rights Act. In particular, the challenge is to the provision that requires certain jurisdictions (mostly southern states) to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to voter ID laws or redistricting. The New Yorker has an interesting take on this, focusing on some of Justice Scalia’s interesting arguments.
Apparently, Scalia wonders whether it’s improper (or even unconstitutional) for the federal government to treat some states differently. I agree with the counter argument that voting rights protections are not an “entitlement” (as Scalia defines them), and that the history of racism and segregation justifies such protections.
Instead, I’m willing to concede Scalia’s argument to him, but with a (comparative) caveat. And I’m drawing here on the example of Switzerland.
For all of its reputation as a “liberal” country, Switzerland is actually rather conservative. In fact, it was one of the last countries in the world to grant women the right to vote, in 1971 (for comparison, women won the right to vote in Iran in 1963).
But there’s an interesting twist: Because of Swizterland’s unique form of federalism, individual cantons have tremendous political autonomy—even on issues of rights. Some Swiss cantons didn’t give women the right to vote for many years after 1971. In fact, the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden didn’t grant women the right to vote until 1990.
So what happened between 1971 and 1990? Well, fairly simple: Women in Appenzell Innerhoden could vote in federal elections, but not in local elections. Why? Because federal elections in Switzerland (and in most countries) are managed by federal agencies, while local elections are managed by local agencies.
Perhaps you see where I’m going with this. See, in the United States, even federal elections are managed by local bodies (either at the state or country level). That’s why we have so many different ballots (remember Florida 2000?) and types of voting machines across the country on presidential elections. But why should local agencies run federal elections? There’s no real reason for it. Certainly not any spelled out in the US Constitution (at least not that I’m aware of).
So one solution to the Voting Rights Act (at least for the purposes of federal elections) would be to simply announce that federal offices (elections to the House, the Senate, and the Presidency) will be managed by a single federal agency that would proscribe a single, universal voting system for all the offices (a uniform ballot, etc.). States would be free to elect their local offices with whatever rules they choose (subject to some federal oversight to protect civil liberties, of course). This might also require the federal government (not states) to draw the district lines for House seats. Or, more to my liking, we could move to either a list-PR or SNTV system using multimember districts.
Either way, it simply doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense (to me) for states to have such a significant impact on how federal elections are handled. If they want autonomy from the federal regulations, then the simplest way is just to hand over those responsibilities to a federal electoral authority. After all, most countries (even federal ones) have one. They seem to prefer professional, impartial election management staff to running things by ad hoc assortments of partisans and amateurs.
Last night’s Daily Show, while commenting on Israel’s election, included clips of administration critics suggesting that Obama is the most anti-Israel president, ever. I beg to differ.
Obama certainly has his differences with current Israeli foreign policy under “Bibi” Netanyahu. Then again, what two heads of state wouldn’t? I agree with those who suggest that making blanket statements about unyielding support for Israel comes dangerously close to writing a blank check we might not be ready to cash in (would we support Israel if it attacked vital US interests?).
But do Obama’s public differences in policy with “Bibi” make him the most anti-Israel president, ever? I think that title goes to Dwight Eisenhower during the 1956 Suez Crisis. Let me explain:
In 1956, after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, Israel, France, and Britain invaded Egypt. The United States was opposed to Israeli intervention and—together with the Soviet Union (although with different ulterior motives, obviously)—pushed Israel to withdraw from the conflict and give up its gains in the Sinai. And this wasn’t just public rhetoric: the US imposed (and encouraged its allies to follow suit) economic sanctions on Israel for its role in the conflict and even threats of expulsion from the UN.
I don’t think Obama has quite gone that far.
Of course, perhaps the award for the most anti-Israeli sentiment by someone at the White House could go to Henry Kissinger (scroll down to the “Middle East” section), Nixon’s Secretary of State. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Kissinger famously told Nixon to “let Israel bleed” (by denying assistance) in order to “soften it up” before negotiations.
I’m pretty sure Obama hasn’t done anything like that, either.
The US and Israel are, today, staunch allies. But that wasn’t always the case. The US cautiously supported Israel’s independence in 1948. And until the 1970s, the US worried that being too closely tied to Israel would weaken its position in the region (where lots of oil was at stake). Since the 1980s, however, our foreign policies have merged. But there’s a reason why we have other very close allies in the region. Like Saudi Arabia. And it’s telling that we never sent troops to back Israel in any of its conflicts, like we did for Kuwait in 1990. US-Israeli relations are much more complicated. As are all foreign relations.
Independent voters, blah, blah, blah. A perspective from someone who studies countries with multiparty systems:
Here’s my beef with the fascination in the US with “independent” voters: I’ve no idea what they mean. And pundits don’t seem to either. Because there seems to be this idea that there are only two “positions” in US politics: Republican & Democrat. Sure, they sometimes distinguish between “moderate” and “extreme” versions of each. But is that all there is?
Look, here’s what I think of when I hear the term “independent” voter: I think some of them are “centrist” (right between the GOP and Democratic position), which is how pundits seem to discuss them.
But many (perhaps most?) of the “independents” are probably either to the left or right of both major parties (and that’s only if we assume a unidimensional political spectrum!). A Libertarian is not an “independent” voter; he/she is merely neither a Democrat nor a Republican. The same is true for a socialist (to the left of Democrats) or a religious conservative (to the right, traditionally, of the “mainstream” GOP).
If I treat people to the left and right of and in between of the two major parties as one single voting block with similar preferences I’m going to get a lot of noise in my data and nothing substantive. Period.
Instead, it would be more useful to actually ask people questions about issues, then track those to candidates (bypassing partisanship). Or ask people to place themselves on a left-to-right spectrum, and then track that to candidates.
But, please. Enough already with the “independent” voter meme. It’s not only bad political science—it’s just absurd on its face value.