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Guest Thinkers

Essential Holiday Reading on Domestic Politics

Happy holidays! Every year as I range across the web in search of news and ideas I come across a few articles that stand out as exceptionally worth reading. Today I want to share—as I did already once here earlier in earlier in the year—some of the articles on domestic politics I personally found most interesting.

One of the biggest stories in American politics was the enormous increase in the use of the filibuster and procedural rules to block even relatively uncontroversial pieces of legislation. In “The Empty Chamber” (The New Yorker, August 9), George Packer argues that the institution of the Senate is so badly broken that it has become difficult to manage the country on a day-to-day basis, much less solve any of its long-term problems.

The two lasting achievements of this Senate, financial regulation and health care, required a year and a half of legislative warfare that nearly destroyed the body. They depended on a set of circumstances—a large majority of Democrats, a charismatic President with an electoral mandate, and a national crisis—that will not last long or be repeated anytime soon. Two days after financial reform became law, Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not take up comprehensive energy-reform legislation for the rest of the year. And so climate change joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans’ care, campaign finance, transportation security, labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing.

In “Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny” (NPR, October 29)—which I wrote about here—Laura Sullivan uncovers a scheme to get around lobbying rules. By setting up a front organization like the American Legislative Exchange Council to host nominally educational conferences, lobbyists for companies like Reynolds, ExxonMobil, and Pfizer can draft bills with legislators—and even pay their expenses—without having to adhere to normal disclosure requirements. Arizona’s controversial immigration law granting the police broad authority to detain suspected illegal immigrants was written at one such conference, with the help of a prison management company interested providing detention facilities.

Videos and photos from one recent ALEC conference show banquets, open bar parties and baseball games — all hosted by corporations. Tax records show the group spent $138,000 to keep legislators’ children entertained for the week.

But the legislators don’t have to declare these as corporate gifts.

Consider this: If a corporation hosts a party or baseball game and legislators attend, most states require the lawmakers to say where they went and who paid. In this case though, legislators can just say they went to ALEC’s conference. They don’t have to declare which corporations sponsored these events.

Although more about culture than electoral politics, “What Was Malt Liquor?” (Accidental Blogger, September 19), Andrew Rosenblum’s piece on the history of malt liquor in America, was one of most fascinating and most entertaining things I read all year. With the help of links to decades of campy (and often offensive) advertisements, Rosenblum explains how a drink that was originally aimed at middle-class whites began to be marketed to blacks—and ultimately came to be known as “liquid crack.”

In one notorious 1986 print spot for Midnight Dragon, a voluptuous woman grasped a squat 40 ounce bottle above the tagline “I could suck on this all night.” In the 90s, charismatic gangster rappers incorporated 40s into their tales of murder and drug-dealing, driving malt liquor sales to all-time highs. In contrast, the 2009 Colt .45 ads merely featured a cartoon drawing of longtime spokesman Billy Dee Williams dressed in mauve and beige evening wear, accompanied by the slogan, “Works Every Time.”


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