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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Opinion on the Death Penalty

Pew reports:
A majority of Americans favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, but support for the death penalty is as low as it has been in the past 40 years. A new Pew Research Center survey finds 56% favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 38% are opposed.
The share supporting the death penalty has declined six percentage points, from 62%, since 2011. Throughout much of the 1980s and 90s, support for the death penalty often surpassed 70%. In a 1996 survey, 78% favored the death penalty, while just 18% were opposed.
Much of the decline in support over the past two decades has come among Democrats. Currently, just 40% of Democrats favor the death penalty, while 56% are opposed. In 1996, Democrats favored capital punishment by a wide margin (71% to 25%).
There has been much less change in opinions among Republicans: 77% favor the death penalty, down from 87% in 1996. The share of independents who favor the death penalty has fallen 22 points over this period, from 79% to 57%.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Mar. 25-29 among 1,500 adults, finds widespread doubts about how the death penalty is applied and whether it deters serious crime. Yet a majority (63%) says that when someone commits a crime like murder, the death penalty is morally justified; just 31% say it is morally wrong, even in cases of murder.
At the same time, 71% of Americans say there is some risk that an innocent person will be put to death. Only about a quarter (26%) say there are adequate safeguards in place to make sure that does not happen.
About six-in-ten (61%) say the death penalty does not deter people from committing serious crimes; 35% say it does deter serious crime.
And about half (52%) say that minorities are more likely than whites to be sentenced to death for similar crimes; fewer (41%) think that whites and minorities are equally likely to be sentenced for similar [sic].
The survey also finds that Americans are relatively unaware about whether the number of death penalty executions taking place in the U.S. has changed in recent years. According toU.S. Justice Department records the number of prisoners executed in the last 10 years has declined.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ideological Liberals and Operational Conservatives?

Thomas B. Edsall writes at The New York Times:
With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, the share of Americans convinced that health care is a right shrank from a majority to a minority.
This shift in public opinion is a major victory for the Republican Party. It is part of a larger trend: a steady decline in support for redistributive government policies.
Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at Berkeley and one of the nation’s premier experts on inequality, is a co-author of astudy that confirms this trend, which has been developing over the last four decades. A separate study, “The Structure of Inequality and Americans’ Attitudes Toward Redistribution,” found that as inequality increases, so does ideological conservatism in the electorate.
The erosion of the belief in health care as a government-protected right is perhaps the most dramatic reflection of these trends. In 2006, by a margin of more than two to one, 69-28, those surveyed by Gallup said that the federal government should guarantee health care coverage for all citizens of the United States. By late 2014, however, Gallup found that this percentage had fallen 24 points to 45 percent, while the percentage of respondents who said health care is not a federal responsibility nearly doubled to 52 percent.
The conservative shift in public attitudes on health care and on issues of redistribution and inequality pose a significant threat to the larger liberal agenda.
The 2013 paper published in Public Opinion Quarterly that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, “The Structure of Inequality and Americans’ Attitudes Toward Redistribution,” suggests that Democratic programs providing tax-financed benefits to the poor are facing growing hostility.
The author of the paper, Matthew Luttig, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Minnesota, found that while “numerous political theorists suggest that rising inequality and the shift in the distribution of income to those at the top should lead to increasing support for liberal policies,” in practice, “rising inequality in the United States has largely promoted ideological conservatism.”
Why?  The cliche has long been that Americans are ideological conservatives and operational liberals: that is, they support limited government in the abstract but big government in the particular. But these data suggest issues where the opposite is the case:  that many people like items on the liberal menu but turn conservative when they see the prices.

Moreover, there was a huge gap between the promises of the Affordable Care Act -- the president pledged that it would be essentially painless -- and the reality.  Barney Frank said: "But frankly, he should never have said as much as he did, that if you like your current health care plan, you can keep it. That wasn’t true. And you shouldn’t lie to people. And they just lied to people.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Justices on Jury Duty

A number of posts have discussed jury duty.  Even high officials are not exempt.  The Washington Post reports:
One potential juror who was considered for a civil trial in Montgomery County on Wednesday morning could have brought a lot to the jury room. He’s the chief justice of the United States.
John G. Roberts Jr. showed up for jury duty in Rockville like other civic-minded citizens and was being considered for a civil trial in a case involving a car crash. He answered two questions in open court about relatives — noting that his sister in Indiana is a nurse, and his brother-in-law was with Indiana State Police — but none about his own line of work, which would be listed on a questionnaire. He then talked with attorneys and the judge privately at the bench.
Roberts was not selected, and left court without comment.

Justices are often called for jury duty — Justice Elena Kagan has been to the courthouse in the District at least twice — but rarely chosen. Roberts, who lives in Chevy Chase, was being considered for a two-day trial.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Beliefs About Taxes

Gallup reports:
As Americans confront the yearly deadline to pay their federal income taxes, 45% of U.S. adults believe lower-income earners pay "too much." This sentiment is up roughly five percentage points from recent years, but is still lower than a decade ago.
In fact, however, low-income Americans pay very little federal tax, as the Tax Policy Center explains:
Low-income households pay relatively low federal taxes, primarily because tax credits reduce or eliminate their income tax liability, and some (called refundable credits) result in net payments to them. Stimulus measures enacted to offset the adverse effects of the 2008-09 recession further reduced the tax-burden on these families. In 2011, tax units in the lowest income quintile (that is, the 20 percent of all tax units with the lowest incomes) on average paid federal income, payroll, and estate taxes equal to 0.8 percent of their cash income, less than a twentieth of the 18.1 percent average effective tax rate for all tax units (see table).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Federal income tax returns are due tomorrow. (In many places, state taxes are due, too.) Turbotax offers an infographic on federal taxation (h/t Jen M.)

a brief history of US income taxes infographic

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Middle-Class Anxiety

Patricia Cohen writes at The New York Times:
Middle-class anxiety has been driven by several factors: increasing instability in incomes, a sense among many Americans that they are failing to keep up with the gains of previous generations, and an increasing gap between themselves and the very rich.
A recent report from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis concluded that “families that are neither rich nor poor may be under more downward economic and financial pressure than common but simplistic rank-based measures of income or wealth would suggest.”
 The study, conducted by William R. Emmons and Bryan J. Noeth, found that one reason many Americans viewed themselves as struggling was that their real incomes had not advanced significantly beyond their parents’ even when they reached higher educational levels, while those who matched their parents’ achievements were actually worse off.
There isn’t one middle class, but many middle classes. Still, what all of them ultimately require, experts say, is a sense of economic security.
“If there’s no security, there’s no middle class,” said Thomas Hirschl, a sociologist at Cornell and an author of “Chasing the American Dream.”
Median per capita income has basically been flat since 2000, adjusted for inflation. The typical American family makes slightly less than a typical family did 15 years ago. And while many goods have become cheaper or better, the price of three of the biggest middle-class expenditures — housing, college and health care — have gone up much faster than the rate of inflation.
Equally important, Mr. Hirschl found a high degree of income volatility among most Americans in the four decades between 1969 and 2011.....nearly 80 percent at least temporarily plunged into a red zone, where their income dropped near or below the poverty line, or they were compelled to gain access to a social safety net program like food stamps or collect unemployment insurance. More than half of Americans ages 25 to 60 will experience at least one year hovering around the poverty line.
A review of the latest studies on the middle class by the Congressional Research Service concluded that “when those at the upper end of the distribution fare much better than they do, the level of middle-class satisfaction is generally lessened.”
Yet in the last 15 years, nearly all of the gains in income have streamed toward the upper end of the spectrum.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Congress: the Constitution, and Contemporary Politics -- President and Congress, Domestic and National Security Policy

Notes for a seminar at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution, Montpelier, Virginia:

A video about the other main author of The Federalist.  (And a comparison)


A second advantage of allocating power according to the principle of the separation of powers is that it promotes efficiency, at least in one respect. Because the three functions are different in character, different qualities are required for their effective exercise. Each institution can be structured in such a way as to carry out its own function most effectively. The executive power can be housed in an in an institution headed by one individual in order to allow rapid and secret action, the legislative power in an institution that provides for broad representation and encourages deliberation, and the judicial power in an institution that assures knowledge of the law and detachment.

But....executive actions are much more than executive orders.

Federalist 70:  
Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy....
There can be no need, however, to multiply arguments or examples on this head. A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.
The ingredients which constitute energy in the Executive are, first, unity; secondly, duration; thirdly, an adequate provision for its support; fourthly, competent powers. [Could be on the test!]
As, on the one hand, a duration of four years will contribute to the firmness of the Executive in a sufficient degree to render it a very valuable ingredient in the composition; so, on the other, it is not enough to justify any alarm for the public liberty. 
Federalist 78:
A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents. 
John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison:
It is emphatically the duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret the rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Court must decide on the operation of each.

If courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.
Federalist 8: "It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority."

Tocqueville, Democracy in America: 
If executive power is weaker in America than in France, the reason for this lies perhaps more in circumstances than in the laws. It is generally in its relations with foreign powers that the executive power of a nation has the chance to display skill and strength. If the Union’s existence were constantly menaced, and if its great interests were continually interwoven with those of other powerful nations, one would see the prestige of the executive growing, because of what was expected from it and of what it did. 
House Judiciary Committee hearing, February 26, 2014, prepared statements of Jonathan Turley and Christopher Schroeder

Senator Obama 2007 interview

President Obama and the Iran negotiations

Senator Obama on signing statements:

President Obama's signing statements