Who Calls the Shots? Who Really Rules? New Research on Influence in American Policy

 

By Richa Mishra

Justice Louis Brandeis once stated, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” More recently, humorist Fran Lebowitz noted, “In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.” A new study shows that both, perhaps, were right: the wealthiest Americans “generally get their way” on issues that the average citizen disagrees with, from tax reform and corporate regulation to abortion. Continue reading

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Filed under In the News, Inequality vs Democracy, Launch Event with On Point, Representation

Bryan Cranston Captures the Virtues and Vices of the Ultimate Politician: LBJ in “All the Way”

On October 6, 2013, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation collaborated with the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) on a performance of Robert Schenkkan’s political drama All the Way. The play focuses on Lyndon B. Johnson’s first year as President with a particular eye to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Bryan Cranston, fresh off of his Breaking Bad success, starred as Johnson. Following the performance, A.R.T. Artistic Director Ryan McKittrick moderated a discussion with actor Michael McKean, who played J. Edgar Hoover in the production, and Alex Keyssar, Stirling Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. The following post highlights elements of the conversation. Continue reading

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Filed under All The Way, Expansion of Presidential Power, In the News, Political Polarization

Frontiers of Democracy Research: The Gettysburg Project

This post highlights a new initiative exploring the decline of public engagement and ways that we might improve the scope, diversity and impact of organizing and mobilization of the public. Lead faculty Marshall Ganz and Archon Fung first introduced students to their new initiative, The Gettysburg Project, in 2013. This post captures that introductory discussion for an occasional series on the blog exploring the frontiers of research on democratic governance. The series highlights the work of the Ash Center’s faculty and Democracy Fellows whose research illuminates aspects of democratic governance, with a focus on innovations in public participation and on urgent substantive policy or social problems related to democratic governance. Continue reading

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Filed under Decline of Popular Movements, Frontiers of Research, Inequality vs Democracy, Participation, Representation

My Challenges: Oded Grajew, Founder of the World Social Forum and Sustainable Cities Program, Brazil

Asked to assess the health of democracy in the U.S. and compare it to his home country of Brazil, Oded Grajew comments on the power of business in a democracy to both negatively influence politics and to bring positive social change. Continue reading

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Filed under Corruption, Expansion of Presidential Power, My Challenges, Representation

The Responsive City: Implementing Technology is a Decidedly Human Act

This post by Harvard Kennedy School student Jen North recounts the second session of a new Cities, Technology and Democracy Study Group at Harvard Kennedy School hosted by student groups Tech4Change and Regional, State, Local and Tribal (RSLT) Governance Professional Interest Council, along with the Ash Center. The session featured Susan Crawford, the John C. Reilly Visiting Professor of Intellectual Property at Harvard Law School. Professor Crawford discussed how city government officials and civic activists use data tools and information access strategies to transform city government. Continue reading

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Donald Rumsfeld as Performance Artist: A Conversation with Errol Morris

On February 26, 2014, the Ash Center hosted a screening of the new film The Unknown Known, followed by a spirited conversation with the filmmaker Errol Morris as part of its Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series. After the screening, Morris took questions from an engaged audience in a large classroom on the Harvard Kennedy School campus. Moderated by Archon Fung, the conversation shifted between the making of Morris’ film, his impressions of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (the subject of the film), and dimensions of executive power. Below are three excerpts from the discussion. Continue reading

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Filed under Expansion of Presidential Power, In the News, Media and Journalism

Youth Lead the Change: Boston Participatory Budgeting Goes Online for Idea Collection Phase

This post by Hollie Russon Gilman is part of our ongoing coverage of Boston’s first-in-the-nation participatory budgeting initiative, which is distinct in that it is youth-focused and being driven by the mayor’s office. Read our earlier posts here and here. Continue reading

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Building the Infrastructure to Support Public Engagement and Participation

This post is excerpted from How we tackled “Civic Infrastructure” at NCDD 2012 by Sandy Heierbacher, originally published by the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD). Heierbacher asks readers to consider how to develop “the underlying structures needed to help ensure people can come together to address their challenges effectively.” We encourage you to join the conversation and leave your comment below or on Sandy’s original post. Continue reading

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Integrating Immigrant Communities: March 31 Panel Discussion in Lawrence, Mass

On March 31, the Ash Center is co-hosting a panel discussion addressing the topic of immigration from a local perspective. Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera will begin the discussion moderated by WBUR’s Asma Khalid.

 

By Maisie O’Brien

As Washington’s continued partisan gridlock has cast great doubt on the likelihood of passing comprehensive immigration reform in the near term, attention is turning to local initiatives – particularly as cities and states seek innovative ways to integrate immigrant communities into political and civic life. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Immigration & Citizenship, Lawrence, Massachusetts, Participation, Representation

In the News: Surveying the Landscape of Local Government Public Engagement Efforts

Our friends at the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) pointed us to a new article in the International City/County Management Association’s (ICMA) magazine Public Management. Authors Robert Vogel of Peak Democracy, Evelina Moulder of ICMA, and Mike Huggins of Civic Praxis paint a picture of local government public participation efforts, including their nature, purpose, scope, outcomes, and more. Their data come from the ICMA 2012 State of the Profession Survey. Continue reading

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In the News: Millennials Are Down on Government

Emma Roller reports for National Journal on two surveys that reflect a shift toward the middle and a waning trust in government among Millennials.

Millennials have long been the carbuncle on the GOP’s backside, but these studies suggest some ways that Republicans can make inroads with younger voters. Twentysomethings today are less ideologically “pure” than older voters, and therefore more likely to be swayed to one side or another. Continue reading

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VouliWatch: Crowd-sourcing the Greek Parliament

This post comes to us from the birthplace of democracy. Authors Antonis Schwarz and Harvard Kennedy School alum Panagiotis Vlachos, MPA ’13, paint a dark picture of the political landscape in Greece, from distrust to fury. Yet out of this unrest and pessimism they describe launching VouliWatch, a new online platform encouraging dialogue between Greek citizens and their elected representatives. VouliWatch, whose beta version launched this week, is the latest iteration of ParliamentWatch, a German innovation that has spread to six other European countries. Continue reading

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Participatory Budgeting: Re-imagining Civic Engagement in the City of Boston

This post by Crosby Burns recounts the first session of a new Cities, Technology and Democracy Study Group at Harvard Kennedy School hosted by student groups Tech4Change and Regional, State, Local and Tribal Professional Interest Council, along with the Ash Center. The session featured HKS Professor Archon Fung and Chris Osgood and Shari Davis from the City of Boston. The subject was Boston’s first-in-the-nation youth participatory budgeting initiative, with a focus on the practical challenges of implementation from political leadership to performance indicators. Continue reading

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Frontiers of Democracy Research: American Political Science Association Weighs in on Congressional Gridlock

This post highlights a recent report from the American Political Science Association, Negotiating Agreement in Politics: Report of the Task Force on Negotiating Agreement in Politics, edited by Jane Mansbridge and Cathie Jo Martin. Mansbridge is recent president of APSA and an affiliated faculty member of the Ash Center. The post is part of an occasional series exploring the frontiers of research on democratic governance. The series highlights the work of the Ash Center’s faculty and Democracy Fellows whose research illuminates aspects of democratic governance, with a focus on innovations in public participation and on urgent substantive policy or social problems related to democratic governance. Continue reading

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In the News: What’s Gone Wrong with Democracy?

Check out this in-depth essay from The Economist on democracy across the globe. “Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century,” they write. “Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?” Below are a few excerpts. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Corruption, Decline of Popular Movements, In the News, Inequality vs Democracy, Media and Journalism, Participation, Political Polarization, Representation, Technology

In the News: A Cure for Presidential Power Grabs?

On February 26, the Ash Center is hosting a screening of Errol Morris’ new film “The Unknown Known” and a discussion with the filmmaker, as part of its Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series. One of the themes in the film, and in our series, is executive power.

Much has been written about the real threats posed by expanding presidential power, but in a recent commentary on Huffington Post, Yale University’s Bruce Ackerman suggests real solutions, which are more difficult to find. Continue reading

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The Unknown Known: Film Screening and Discussion Featuring Director Errol Morris

Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris to speak at Harvard Kennedy School on February 26, 2014 after a screening of his new documentary film The Unknown Known.

 

One of the challenges in the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series is the expansion of presidential power and the potential threats it poses to our democracy’s compact between the chief executive, Congress, the courts, and the people. Continue reading

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Boston Launches First Youth-Driven Participatory Budgeting in the US

By Hollie Russon Gilman, PhD

There is a general sense that young people don’t want to engage in politics. And yet, we are seeing young people increasingly using new technologies to express their civic identities. Maybe young people are engaging politically in new ways? From crowdfunding for good or using social media to convey political preferences, perhaps young people can help us imagine and innovate new relationships with traditional governance institutions.

Boston’s Participatory Budgeting (PB) is an interesting example in envisioning just what is possible. Continue reading

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Immigration Reform Stalled in Washington, Cities and Towns Taking the Lead Again

Immigration policy and paths to citizenship are hotly contested topics on the national stage, yet immigration is most often experienced locally. As shown by the recent news reports below, cities like Hartford, CT and towns like Oakley, CA are on the front lines of some of the most important questions and tensions related to immigration.

How, for example, does the integration of local immigrant communities challenge our notions of justice and equality? How far should we extend civil and political rights, for example, to immigrants with or without authorization; and what responsibilities should we expect in return? Continue reading

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In the News: Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index

Transparency International recently released its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.  Each year the Index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 177 countries and territories. This year’s report confirms that corruption remains a global threat. Continue reading

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